Raymond Wood's Deathbed Letter Regarding Malcolm X Assasination

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
The above letter (written in 2011) was released a few days ago by the family of Malcolm X. It was claimed on Twitter that this was proof that "the FBI assassinated Malcom X". But it's really not that explicit, and much of the content, while being new to many people, is things that were known. It is unfortunately light on details.

Consider "Under the direction of my handlers I was told to encourage leaders and members of civil rights groups to commit felonious acts." Wood goes on to describe a type of sting operation that the FBI still carries out today. An undercover operative infiltrates a group that seems dangerous and encourages them to commit a crime like a bombing. They even go as far as supplying fake explosives. Then when the plot has progressed right up to the moment of enactment, they swoop in, arrest everyone, and declare they have foiled a deadly attack.

Wood was involved in such an operation, and his involvement was reported in the press before the assassination. The arrests were made Feb 16 1963, and were reported in the evening papers that day.

2021-02-23_08-49-02.jpg
Source Desert Sun, Volume 38, Number 167, 16 February 1965 https://cdnc.ucr.edu/?a=d&d=DS19650216.2.11&e=-------en--20--1--txt-txIN--------1 (and attached)

What's new is the accusation that the men were arrested so they would be "kept away from managing Malcolm X's Audubon Ballroom door security on February 21, 1965", and Wood's claim that "On February 21, 1965 I was ordered to be at the Audubon Ballroom, where I was identified by witnesses while leaving the scene. Thomas Johnson was later arrested and wrongfully convicted to protect my cover and the secrets of the FBI and NYPD."

This last part seems a little odd, as his cover was already blown by being reported in the newspaper. After three months undercover, he would surely have been known by sight to many people other than those arrested. He also does not state what he was doing there, however, Thomas 15X Johnson was identified at the scene as a gunman. So if "Thomas Johnson was later arrested and wrongfully convicted to protect" Wood's cover, then that would imply that Wood himself was a gunman - which seems like it should have been the main point to clarify here.

It's also odd that a three-month sting operation would be set up just to remove two members of Malcolm X's door security detail five days before the regular weekly OAAU meeting at the Audubon. That would give plenty of time to arrange replacements or reschedule. Wood specifically says that this was his assignment.

FBI and police involvement is certainly not out of the question, but this letter is really not clear evidence of what the involvement was.
 

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Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
A lot of related background around Raymond Wood's involvement can be found in this 2005 article:
https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/feb/21/malcolm-x-assassination-records-nypd-investigation

Article:
Campbell is an educator and civil rights activist who founded the Liberation School along with OAAU member Herman Ferguson in 1964. His papers include handwritten notes taken by the late Japanese American activist Yuri Kochiyama. The meeting, the notes explain, was held “to establish stability from this crisis.” And the notes contain an unexpected piece of information. Kochiyama’s scrawl at the bottom of the 6 March meeting reads:
Ray Woods
"‘Ray Woods is said to have been seen also running out of Audubon; was one of two picked up by police. Was the second person running out.’"

The notes appear to substantiate the accounts of Herman Ferguson and the AP of a “second man” taken into police custody. That a name should resurface 50 years later is remarkable. But more significant is that the “Ray Woods” named in the note was likely Raymond A Wood, an undercover New York City police officer with the Bureau of Special Services and Investigation (BOSSI).

Wood began his career by infiltrating the Bronx Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) chapter under the name Ray Woodall in 1964. There, he posed as a 27 year-old graduate of Manhattan College studying law at Fordham. He was soon named CORE’s housing chairman and oversaw a voter registration project.

Wood earned his activist bonafides by getting arrested with two others at city hall while attempting a citizen’s arrest of mayor Wagner for allowing racial discrimination on a public construction project. Feminist Susan Brownmiller, a fellow CORE activist at the time, recalled that if “CORE had placed an advertisement in the Amsterdam News describing what it was looking for, Woodall would have fit the bill.”

By 1965, “Woodall” had been reassigned under his real name to infiltrate a group calling itself the Black Liberation Movement (BLM). He was credited with foiling a bomb plot by the BLM that allegedly targeted the Statue of Liberty and other national monuments, just a week before Malcolm X’s assassination. One of the four arrested in the plot was Walter Bowe, who also co-chaired the cultural committee in Malcolm’s OAAU. Wood’s close association with an OAAU member makes it likely that others within the organization would also have known and recognized him.

Wood was promoted to detective second grade for making the arrests in the BLM case. And although his name and a photo of the back of his head circulated throughout the press in the week leading up to Malcolm X’s assassination, the NYPD reported that he was put back to work because his “face is still a secret.”
 

Silouan

New Member
I registered just to discuss this letter, as I have to say it smells like a forgery Wood's daughter says it is. Here's the list of my concerns regarding the letter:

1. The letter doesn't contain any new verifiable information. A deathbed confession is quite unlikely to avoid mentioning the boss by name, or giving more details of who was in charge of what. Instead, it's all unnamed handlers

2. The letter is written in the third-person perspective rather than first-person perspective. Take the sentence "Thomas Johnson was later arrested and wrongfully convicted to protect my cover and the secrets of the FBI and NYPD." How the hell the person knows that was the case? It's not like he confesses to killing, and it's not that the real killer is ever made. If a person who was there would be writing something like this, he'd include justification for similar conclusions.

3. The letter is awfully sparse on specifics of the infiltrations not already known. What organizations were infiltrated? What leaders compromised? What acts of brutality performed? What happened between 1965 and 1971? It's as if the person not only confessed to the worst suspicions of Malcom X conspiracy theorists - but confessed to these suspicions alone and nothing else. This looks suspicious in itself.

4. The letter looks like an attachment. If it is written to say "I have placed my full confession into the care of my cousin Reginald Wood Jr. I have requested that this information be held until after I have passed away." - this means that there's another letter addressed to Reginald Wood Jr. which would explain all this, because if the letter itself is the only thing in an envelope, then it's an extremely confusing set of instructions for someone to follow. Where's that other letter?

5. The envelope doesn't make any sense. Why would a letter from Huntersville be routed through Charlotte? Why would it be stamped so much later? Why would a person have a rubber stamp template for return address if he is not involved in mass mailing? And where are the fold marks on the letter itself?
 

JMartJr

Senior Member
Main postal facillity in the region is in Charlotte, of which Huntersville is a bedroom-community suburb now. Would not be surprising for somebody in Huntersville to drop off a letter in Charlotte if they were going into town for some reason (work, entertainment, sport event, shopping, dining out, etc.) nor for a letter posted in Huntersville to g from there through Charlotte and on to where-ever. Charlottean here.
 

Mendel

Senior Member.
Why would a person have a rubber stamp template for return address if he is not involved in mass mailing?
These were also marketed to private persons before the age of computers; my father had one. Mass mailers use printed envelopes, not rubber stamps.
 

Bernie77

New Member
As I'm sure you all have seen, the murder convictions of those charged of killing Malcolm X have been overturned with the letter above being cited as one of the reasons why in some reports. I don't think that letter was actually involved in the decision. It's more a case of that it appears the NYPD and/or the FBI withheld pertinent information to the cases. Also the word "exonerated" was used in some reports. I'm not sure that's the case either, but rather that the convictions were overturned. Isn't there a difference legally? I'd appreciate if someone could point me to a reliable source with more detail on what's going on in the case. Are there other legitimate suspects? I think Mick makes a good argument about the authenticity of the Wood deathbed confession being questionable.
 

Mendel

Senior Member.
I'm not sure that's the case either, but rather that the convictions were overturned. Isn't there a difference legally?
Legally, if your case is tried and you're found "not guilty" (acquitted), you're legally proven innocent.

Article:
A 22-month investigation conducted jointly by the Manhattan district attorney’s office and lawyers for the two men found that prosecutors and two of the nation’s premier law enforcement agencies — the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the New York Police Department — had withheld key evidence that, had it been turned over, would likely have led to the men’s acquittal.
[...]

That man, Mujahid Abdul Halim, was also found guilty, and his conviction stands. At the trial, he confessed to the murder, but said and has maintained that the other two men were innocent.
[...]

A trove of F.B.I. documents included information that implicated other suspects and pointed away from Mr. Islam and Mr. Aziz. Prosecutors’ notes indicate they failed to disclose the presence of undercover officers in the ballroom at the time of the shooting. And Police Department files revealed that a reporter for The New York Daily News received a call the morning of the shooting indicating that Malcolm X would be murdered.

Investigators also interviewed a living witness, known only as J.M., who backed up Mr. Aziz’s alibi, further suggesting that he had not participated in the shooting but had been, as he said at the trial, at home nursing his wounded legs.

Altogether, the re-investigation found that had the new evidence been presented to a jury, it may well have led to acquittals.


I've attached the D.A.'s "JOINT MOTION TO VACATE JUDGMENTS OF CONVICTION AND DISMISS INDICTMENT" No.871/1965.
 

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Mendel

Senior Member.
I don't think that letter was actually involved in the decision.
I don't think so, either.

From the motion:
Ray Wood died in November 2020, and the letter was made public on February 20, 2021:
Article:
Ray Wood first shared his confession with family when he was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 2011. At the time, he asked his cousin, Reggie, not to share the letter until after he died. Ray Wood died in November, and Reggie Wood shared his cousin’s confession publicly on Saturday,

It seems unlikely that his family would have shared that letter with anyone before Ray Wood died; but when he died, the decision had already been made, and the investigation was underway.
 

jonnyH

Senior Member.
Legally, if your case is tried and you're found "not guilty" (acquitted), you're legally proven innocent.
That's not true. The phrase "not guilty" is used rather than "innocent" for a reason. The standard of proof in criminal cases is "beyond reasonable doubt" which essentially means the jury must be 100% certain that the accused did the deed if they are to return a guilty verdict. This is a high evidentiary hurdle and leaves plenty of room between guilt and innocence such that a verdict of "not guilty" can not on its own be taken as proof of innocence.
 

Mendel

Senior Member.
I was going by this:
Article:
Acquittal

The legal and formal certification of the innocence of a person who has been charged with a crime. [..]

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

The saying "innocent unless proven guilty" implies the same equivalence.
 

jonnyH

Senior Member.
I was going by this:
Article:
Acquittal

The legal and formal certification of the innocence of a person who has been charged with a crime. [..]

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

The saying "innocent unless proven guilty" implies the same equivalence.
The presumption of innocence is not the same as being "proven innocent". It is the opposite as it says that innocence is assumed without proof. An acquittal is the failure of the prosecution to rebut this assumption.

The burden of proof in a criminal trial is generally on the prosecution to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty. The defense doesn't have to prove the defendant innocent and it is possible win an acquittal having presented no evidence simply by casting doubt on the prosecution's case. The jury are asked to decide whether, given the evidence, they are absolutely sure the defendant is guilty, proof of innocence is on the whole not part of the equation.

The following is taken from The Crown Court Compendium and provides guidance to the Judiciary in how to direct a jury on the burden and standard of proof (my bold):

Whilst the class of those found "not guilty" will include some people who the jury considered "proven innocent" it will mostly consist of cases where the jury were not sure either way, where the evidence presented did not rise to the standard of proof required by law. As my old Criminal Law textbook states:

"The principle is justified on the basis that the consequence of a conviction and punishment are so severe that the state prefers to run the risk of acquitting people who may in fact have committed the offence than convicting people who are in fact innocent." - Criminal Law Texts, Cases And Materials, Jonathan Herring, Oxford University Press.

An acquittal is not proof of innocence as there is no requirement to establish any such proof to be acquitted and the process is designed to favour acquitting the guilty over convicting the innocent.
 

NoParty

Senior Member.
The presumption of innocence is not the same as being "proven innocent". It is the opposite as it says that innocence is assumed without proof. An acquittal is the failure of the prosecution to rebut this assumption.

The burden of proof in a criminal trial is generally on the prosecution to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty. The defense doesn't have to prove the defendant innocent and it is possible win an acquittal having presented no evidence simply by casting doubt on the prosecution's case. The jury are asked to decide whether, given the evidence, they are absolutely sure the defendant is guilty, proof of innocence is on the whole not part of the equation.

The following is taken from The Crown Court Compendium and provides guidance to the Judiciary in how to direct a jury on the burden and standard of proof (my bold):

Whilst the class of those found "not guilty" will include some people who the jury considered "proven innocent" it will mostly consist of cases where the jury were not sure either way, where the evidence presented did not rise to the standard of proof required by law. As my old Criminal Law textbook states:



An acquittal is not proof of innocence as there is no requirement to establish any such proof to be acquitted and the process is designed to favour acquitting the guilty over convicting the innocent.
I get your point, but in America we say "not guilty" to convey simply that the
jury did not vote that the prosecution established guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

It's not definitely not an assertion that the person was "proven innocent,"
but, from a legal standpoint, since there's a lack of punishment, many Americans
don't notice or care about the distinction...because--in a legal sense--it doesn't much matter.

Are you suggesting that The Crown Court Compendium provides guidance to the
American justice system?

The controversial "not guilty" that OJ got in '95 did not protect him from civil suits...
and it will be interesting to see if the families of Rittenhouse's victims follow the
path of OJ's victims.
 

NoParty

Senior Member.
...the process is designed to favour acquitting the guilty over convicting the innocent.
now I'd have said it favors acquitting the innocent over convicting the guilty.
Obviously, in a perfect world, the guilty would always be convicted and the innocent acquitted.

But since perfection is unrealistic, the question becomes on which side should the justice system
be built to err.

Sir Matthew Hale wrote: "...it is better five guilty persons should escape unpunished, than one innocent person should die."

About 100 years later (~1768), William Blackstone, in England, upped the ante to
"...it is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer..." and Blackstone's
Commentaries are known to have been in the hands of many of the Founding Fathers...
The concept became a cornerstone of common law in the U.S., as it had in England.

Of course, many people of color, in the U.S. (with sadly significant evidence to back them)
are convinced that--by and large--that benefit of the doubt depends largely on the race of the accused.
 

jonnyH

Senior Member.
Are you suggesting that The Crown Court Compendium provides guidance to the
American justice system?

No, I don't believe The Crown Court Compendium holds any authority in the US, that was a poor choice of reference given the context of this thread, I was grasping for something weightier than West's Encyclopaedia of American Law and came up short, Sorry. Having said that though, the burden and standard of proof in US criminal law is the same so I would imagine guidance on instructing the jury has a similar thrust.
 

NoParty

Senior Member.
No, I don't believe The Crown Court Compendium holds any authority in the US, that was a poor choice of reference given the context of this thread, I was grasping for something weightier than West's Encyclopaedia of American Law and came up short, Sorry. Having said that though, the burden and standard of proof in US criminal law is the same so I would imagine guidance on instructing the jury has a similar thrust.
That was my best guess...but I know that sometimes I miss details, so I'm glad I asked...
and your response is gracious. :)
 
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